1911 – 1943
Mire Gola was born in Rzeszow, in the Lvov district of Galicia, Poland (today Ukraine) to a well-to-do mercantile family which was religious, specifically hasidic, though permeated with general culture. Her father set a humanistic, open tone in the household, and Gola studied in Polish schools, where she was a model student, at times winning prizes. She distinguished herself even in childhood for her intelligence and many talents, especially in writing and speaking. She also had outstanding leadership ability from early childhood.
She joined the local Ha-Shomer ha-Za’ir group while young, becoming one of its most active and important members. She excelled in her studies and graduated high school with distinction. Gola was extremely devoted to the group members under her charge, using the money she earned by giving private lessons to pay the high school tuition of those who could not afford it.
At the age of seventeen she was elected to the main Ha-Shomer ha-Za’ir leadership in Galicia and moved to Lvov, where the leadership was located. As a result of her persuasive powers her parents ultimately reconciled themselves to her choice.
In 1932 her parents decided to move to Belgium and insisted that Gola accompany them, but she refused and ran away from home on the day they left.
In 1932 she was expelled from Ha-Shomer ha-Za’ir because of her radical stand on relations with the Soviet Union. In 1939 she was joined by her friend Olek Hausman, whom she later married. At this time she began to be active in the Communist Party and in 1936 participated in organizing a strike at the Kontakt factory, where she was employed. She was arrested together with twelve other strike leaders and sentenced to six months in jail. Upon her release her family tried in vain to persuade her to give up her underground activity. She continued her activity in Przemysl, founding Communist cells in the surrounding villages until she was picked up in a mass arrest with about twelve other young women. The right-wing Polish government staged a show trial in which the defendants, who refused to accept a lawyer, were instantly silenced when they attempted to speak for themselves. Relatives of Gola who attended her trial later told a friend of hers that only Gola spoke for an hour and a half without being silenced. She spoke of Poland’s greatness and worthiness and only after she had captivated her audience did she introduce the message of equality and class struggle. Her speech had so great an impact that two days later the chief prosecutor visited her in her cell and presented her with three roses. Nevertheless, she was sentenced to twelve years’ imprisonment.
Gola continued her activities even in prison, fighting for improvement in the prisoners’ conditions and creating a better relationship between them and the wardens. In 1938 she and her colleagues were transferred with her group to Fordon Prison near the German border.
When World War II broke out on September 1, 1939, the prison guards fled, leaving the prison locked. Led by Gola, the women somehow managed to break the gate open and flee before the Germans arrived. Gola learned that Olek was in Warsaw and made her way there only to learn that he had left for Bialystok, which was then under Soviet rule. After resting for a few days in Warsaw, she went to Bialystok to meet him. They traveled together to Lvov, which was also under Soviet rule, and there they were married. The Soviet authorities appointed her a member of the city council and commissar. Her family learned that she also served as an arbitrator in work disputes among the activists. After the German conquest of June 1941 Olek was forced to interrupt his studies at the technical college. He fled eastward to join the Red Army and was never again heard from.
Gola, who was close to the end of her pregnancy, was unable to join him. She had to find a hiding place outside Lvov, where she was too well known and where the Germans were searching for her. She finally found shelter in a dilapidated basement where she gave birth alone, preparing hot water, delivering the child and cutting the umbilical cord herself. Somehow she managed to survive for two or three months before having to ask her relatives, the Spiner family, now in the Cracow ghetto, to come to her aid. They immediately sent a Polish friend of the family, who brought her to Cracow after an exhausting journey with the baby in a crowded railroad car. When he brought her to his home outside the ghetto, she went into the kitchen to heat milk for her son, only to see him die in her arms. Holding her baby’s corpse, she reached her family in the ghetto. It was the beginning of 1942.
Needing a few months’ rest to gather her physical and emotional strength, Gola became withdrawn and for some two months sat by herself, writing poems to her son and her husband. After a while, the themes of her poems changed, expressing recovery and a willingness to start over again. Believing Olek to be still alive, she wrote him a long letter which she left with her cousin Vuschka Spiner. In it she told him everything that had befallen her, expressing her pain and disappointment at their trusted comrades’ betrayal of her in Lvov, since she had been in danger of their handing her over to the Germans.
Gola and Spiner went to work in a German factory. Spiner recalls this as a time when they began engaging in sabotage and underground activity, puncturing cans of food intended for the German army. They ceased their activity when Gola decided it was too risky.
While Gola was in the Spiner home in the ghetto, she spoke with Vuschka Spiner’s husband, Dolek Liebeskind, head of the Akiva movement, about how, where and when to act against the Germans. Gola always maintained that the aim of the deportations was the annihilation of the Jews and that they must therefore defend themselves. She finally decided to leave the ghetto and resume contact with her Communist comrades who, in accordance with an order from Stalin, had resumed activity as the PPR (Polska Partia Robotnicza, the Polish Workers’ Party) in January 1942.
In a letter of November 20, 1942 to her parents, who were then in Switzerland, Gola wrote: “I am now with old friends of mine and my husband’s. Through them, I found work in my old profession [the publication of a newspaper and pamphlets—Y. P.]. My work has given me back the independence and inner peace I lacked after my child died.”
Gola wanted to recruit her family and the friends she had made in the ghetto, such as Dolek Liebeskind, Shimshon Draenger (1917–1943) and Adolf (Avraham) Leibovich (“Laban”) (1917–1943), activists in the Akiva and Dror movements, for the anti-Nazi struggle. She learned that her party comrades were hesitant because they felt the time for action was not ripe (nor were they sufficiently equipped). This caused her much pain. As a Jew, she was convinced that her people were in a race against time and must act quickly to avoid annihilation. It was due to her efforts that Dolek and his colleagues managed to get a small amount of help from the PPR in the way of guides to the forest, hiding places for a few friends outside the ghetto, mainly those in another organization, Iskra (Russian: spark), led by Heshek (Zvi) Bauminger (1919–1943), which merged with the PPR. Tova Draenger credits Gola with “the urge of the members of Akiva to go out and fight alongside the PPR,” though this urge was short-lived, lasting only until the Akiva members became disappointed in the PPR. They saw Gola as “a superb example of a woman of refined spirit, experienced [in the underground] and a courageous fighter. They believed that her personality and unique spirit reflected the values of the party. It was not long before it became clear that not only were the risks unequal, but the amount of dedication was unequal too. … They provided no help, either in the form of weapons, trainers or guides, nor did they give financial assistance.” Gola was extremely hurt by this, but Aharon (Dolek) Liebeskind (1912–1942) and Shimshon Draenger concluded that it was impossible to work with a party whose ideology was alien to their own and to submit themselves to its control.
Gola was responsible for communication between her underground group, under the command of Heshek Bauminger, and the headquarters of the Gwardia Ludowa (People’s National Guard), the PPR’s military wing. She also continued her work in education and propaganda, editing the party newspaper.
On December 22, 1942 two Jewish underground groups, Iskra, to which Gola belonged, and He-Haluz ha-Lohem, under Liebeskind’s command, carried out a major bombing attack against the German authorities in Cracow, capital of the Generalgouvernement (the territory in the interior of occupied Poland). The operation was code-named Cyganeria after the exclusive café which German officers frequented. Though the operation had various goals, its main success lay in the numerous casualties among the German officers. However, informers caused He-Haluz ha-Lohem to lose many of its leaders and members. Iskra continued to carry out operations, bombing targets outside the city, due in large part to Gola’s influence. In February 1943 Heshek Bauminger was captured in his room, where he lay ill. He managed to fire at his attackers, saving the last bullet for himself. At the beginning of March 1943 Gola was captured at the PPR printing office she had established in Cracow and imprisoned at Montelupich, which was known as one of the harshest prisons. Other members caught after the Cyganeria operation were also brought there. (The women’s wing to which she was later brought was located in the adjacent Helzlaw monastery.) After fourteen days of solitary confinement and terrible torture, during which she revealed nothing, she was transferred to Cell 15 in the women’s wing, where her colleagues from He-Haluz ha-Lohem were held, together with other women. Genia Meltzer-Scheinberg recounted in her testimony that Gola’s appearance horrified the other women in the cell. Her hair and fingernails had been torn out and she looked gray and exhausted. But here too Gola earned her tormentors’ respect, as she had done in the prisons where she was held before the war.
In her cell Gola wrote poetry in Yiddish and Hebrew, some of which she dedicated to her husband and dead child. Other poems, which were revolutionary in character and which she taught to her cellmates, included “Instead of Progress”:
that machine guns are better than the strongest words
and ranks of soldiers better than the trustworthiest lines of poetry.
that a rhyme written even in the most burning pain
cannot compare to the thunderous drum of fighters
going into battle.
And this too I shall know:
The red flag flying in the stormy wind
is more precious than anything sung.
But how can I help it if I allowed the words, gathered in pain,
to burst out in song before my heart broke?
O poems, you are like arms that yearn in vain.
So let my tortured cry be: To battle! To battle!
(English translation from the Hebrew)
Gola immediately became as one with the women of He-Haluz ha-Lohem and grew especially close to their leader, Tova Draenger. When the women were transferred to the basement, they realized the end was near. Draenger and Gola conceived the idea of escaping (Genia Meltzer-Scheinberg claims she did too) when they were taken to the truck that would bring them to the “Hill of Death” in Plaszow. (The men, imprisoned across the street, came up with exactly the same idea, without any coordination between them and the women.) Genia recalls that they did not believe they would succeed. Their intention was to “prevent the Germans from leading them to their death, and to let the world know that the Jewish women organized this escape.”
The plan was that when they were taken across the street to the truck, one of them would give the sign and they would all begin to run, using the element of surprise to escape from their guards. At dawn on April 19, 1943 most of the women were taken from the basement cell and carried out their plan as they were led to the truck. It was early in the morning, too early for them to hide among the masses of people on the street. When the signal was given, the women fled for their lives as the guards chased after them, firing their weapons. Most of the women were killed while running. Meltzer-Scheinberg wedged herself between a gate and a courtyard wall. Draenger disappeared. Gola, who was wounded in the arm, reached the gate where Meltzer-Scheinberg was hiding but decided that there was not enough room for both of them. She left the courtyard and ran through the street. Suddenly a shot rang out and Gola fell, dead.
In 1946 the Polish government posthumously awarded Mire Gola its highest decoration for military valor, the Order Virtuti Militari.
Bauminger, Arie Leon. The Fighters of the Cracow Ghetto. Jerusalem: 1986; Dawidson, Gusta. Justyna’s Diary. Tel Aviv: 1978, 49–50; Kuper-Liebeskind, Rivka. Oral Testimony. The Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry, Hebrew University of Jerusalem 4 (188): 26–36; Ibid. Moreshet Archives. A317: 1–16; Meltzer-Scheinberg, Genia. Oral Testimony. The Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry, Hebrew University of Jerusalem 16 (188): 12–16; Peled (Margolin), Yael. Jewish Cracow, 1939–1943: Underground Resistance and Struggle. Tel Aviv: 1993; Shtalbuch, Ayosh. Yad Vashem Archives, 016/4803: 4.